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Goals: Internal v External

Updated: Sep 2, 2021

If you google “most common goals globally”, many of them are lose weight, write a book, get a tattoo, buy a house, go on a road trip to nowhere, get married, travel the world, learn a language, learn an instrument, drink more water, run a marathon…


There are the occasional “be happy”, be “more confident”, “live instead of just exist”…


The first bunch seem potentially easier to achieve, primarily because there is an action related to them i.e. ‘learn’ a language or ‘buy’ a house or ‘get’…


The second batch might appear a little more difficult because they are ‘be’ more… which requires more thinking, than it does ‘doing’ per se.


For example, how do you complete the ‘live instead of exist’ task?

What does that mean?

What does that look like?

How would you explain to someone how to DO it?

How would you know you had done it?


Why are SO many of our goals, according to Google at least, ‘externally’ motivated i.e. outside of ourselves or outside of our sole control?

Is it because they seem more ‘do’-able and therefore seemingly easier to control?


Stats show that

· 35% want to get out of debt, and

· 1/3 will try to buy a home this year,

· 58% want to upgrade their appliances.

· Then there’s redecorating their space (51%),

· remodeling at least one room in their home (47%) and

· entertaining outdoors (41%).


This might help explain why;

· 58% of people reveal money as the biggest challenge they face when trying to reach a goal.

· Or even lack of willpower (48%),

· lack of motivation (45%) and

· lack of proper research (35%) when trying to reach a goal.


What they have not factored in is that those external goals are not ENTIRELY under their control – they need other factors at play to help achieve those goals.

· We need other people to help us buy our house i.e. bank.

· We need other people to help us afford new appliances i.e. regular income


It’s not ONLY up to us if this goal works out or not.


So what about the ‘be’ goals? The internal goals?

‘Be a nicer person’, ‘try harder with my in-laws’ or ‘think more positively’


The coolest bit, the thing I like the most about internal goals, is that they are ENTIRELY controlled by me.

Internal goals don’t need money, they don’t need other people, they just need YOU.


Shouldn’t they then be easier to achieve?


Also – if they are easier or they’re at least easier to control their success level – why do we focus on external goals more often than not?

· Is it because we believe that external goals will ultimately give us internal goals?

o “I will have a waterfront house because looking out at the water each day makes me feel calm and grounded.”

· Or is it because we care too much what others think?

o “They are going to be such haters when we get our waterfont house”

· Or is it that we think its easier to get external goals because of my point above – there is an action related to having or not having those goals.

· Or is it that internal goals actually require more work from us – cerebrally?


Whatever it is… whatever YOUR reason for having external goals… which one is better? External or Internal goals?


Instead of seeking contentment by trying to change the external world, I would argue that we should think about how to change ourselves (i.e. internally).


We should spend no time at all thinking about or worrying about the things that we have no control over. It really makes sense to me to instead find ways to set internal goals as opposed to external goals.


Think of a game of tennis, for example: you might have a goal to 'win the match'.

This would be an externally facing goal. It is one over which you don't have complete control. Your opponent may have advantages over you that you can't anticipate or prepare for.


Alternatively, an internal goal might be to 'play my best'. This has the advantage of being something you have full control over (i.e. how your effort is directed).

Even if you lose the match, by taking this perspective of 'doing one's best' you'll be able to take solace in the fact that there was actually nothing you could have done to change this outcome. Plus, you met your goal (presuming you did actually try your best).